Ridge Vineyards, vigne avec vue sur Apple
Il a battu les Premiers Grands Crus en blind test. Interview de Paul Draper, son CEO Winemaker. (en anglais)
Perched on San Andreas Fault, dominating Cupertino and Stanford University, centenarian vineyards follow the winding forms of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Not far from the Apple head office, we drive up a road to Ridge Vineyards, the only appellation domain, where Paul Draper, CEO & winemaker, is waiting for us. Monte Bello cabernets won first place in both the original vintage wine and new vintage wine categories at the "Judgment of Paris 30th Anniversary Wine Tasting" in London and California. “Les Grand Prix Du Vin” in Paris named Paul Draper as “Personnalité de L'Année” in 2006. One could get a big head with such a success, but Paul Draper keeps his feet on the ground of his domain and discloses a few secrets on winemaking.
PLURIS – Is Ridge a wine for explorers?Paul Draper – Yes, in many aspects we qualify for such a definition. Ridge is out of the mainstream of wine countries in California with its own appellation: the Santa Cruz mountains. We come off our mountains down to Palo Alto, with Sanford University, wide above Apple Computers and Silicon Valley, whereas in the wine countries, you come in from your vineyards into a town where the majority of people are involved in raising grapes and making wine. This ridge called Monte Bello is a very old fraction limestone. Its soils are distinctly different from the rest of California, and its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, which is about 25 kilometres, and its altitude which ranges from 400 metres to over 800 metres gives it a very cool climate, particularly at night. It allows us to maintain high acidity and eventually contributes to the depth, complexity and quality of our wines.
Ridge Vineyards, Cupertino CA
You are a winemaker, but what about being a winegrower?Obviously the growing is the key. Our vineyard of Monte Bello was established in the 1880s and we are lucky to have very sound soils. We are fully organic and do not use any of the 60 some chemicals of modern technology that are now legally available, nor do we use invasive processing machines. We depend on what comes in from the vineyard. So our fermentations are the natural process of grapes fermenting once the juice is exposed to the yeast, on the limited number of barriers that have been broken near maturity. When you have grapes of that quality, you are able to guide this process, or this child, as he or she grows. That child is the creation of the grape fruit itself. You’re simply watching this transformation, as the child grows into a mature adult and that’s really what is the heart of the matter for us.
At the same time, Ridge has one of the most modern laboratories. What is its purpose?We feel it does bring something on top. What it’s done for us is really in 2 directions: of course, we use it to look at never to change or alter the wine as it develops from start to finish, from the great samples as they are brought in, before harvest, right onto the wine at bottling and after bottling. So we can monitor not just the primary chemistry–the thing everybody looks at, sugar, acid, or tannins–you move into the secondary chemistry of looking at very specific things that you usually depend only on your taste to identify, which we do: we make all our decisions based on taste. We are able to measure characteristics like that in the laboratory long before there is any hint of them in the taste or the nose of the wine. We also look at colour and tannin and what effects they do to the wine when that bond is solid or broken. So we have come to understand more about what we are achieving in terms of structure and stability of the wine as we ferment, and it’s been important particularly in the Bordeaux varieties, less so in Zinfandel. All the tasting is blind and every decision is made on its basis and is also formed by the results of the laboratory.
Why are you so passionate about the Zinfandel grape variety?When my partners came up here in 1959 and found this beautiful old limestone and redwood winery built into this side of the mountain, they looked around and they found these 90 to 100 year-old vineyards from the 1880s of Zinfandel. 95% of all the grapes vineyards that had survived Prohibition and the Depression were Zinfandel. They tried making some wine from some very old vines below, at the bottom of the ridge, where it was warm enough to grow Zinfandel. And the wine was so good that they realized they could seek out all Zinfandel vineyards, make those wines and have something to support their efforts. Even though it can age very well, from grapes this quality and made in this manner, Zinfandel is more approachable as a young wine than other Bordeaux varieties. We jokingly say we drink our Zinfandel while we wait for our Cabernets to fully develop!
It is a great wine, not as fully know in Europe as Cabernets. Is there something you still have to experience, that you dream of?We are in a 30-year drought in California: we haven’t had a drought like this since 1977, and with climate change and global warming, what we have to do now is to retain water when we do get rain. We don’t irrigate our vines here, except to establish them. With no rain in the summer in California, if you plant anything, a vine or a rosebush, if it is not watered continually, it will of course dry out.
What would be your advice for wine lovers in their approach to wine?There can be a tremendous snob effect with wine. Wine is food or a complement of food, and just as you don’t allow someone to tell you how you want your steak cooked, you should come to wine with the idea that you should begin to taste slowly more and more different wines, not depending on experts or critics to tell you what you are supposed to like. As you taste more wines, you should be able to decipher what wines you like. You should be able to see the potential from a complexity in some wines. Your taste will change.
Crédits photo : Pluris, Omega, Droits Réservés
Article paru dans le numéro #41 EXPLORATEURS
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